Showing posts from June, 2020

Boston: Phillips School

Last week we learned about George Middleton and I mentioned that one of the causes he supported was that of equal education rights.  Throughout the majority of Boston's history schooling was racially segregated, as it was across most of America.  One of the most visible symbols of that struggle, and the eventual success that was found from years of effort, is the Phillips School. Originally built in 1824, the school on the corner of Pinckney and Anderson Streets first housed the English High School - America's first public high school, which had been founded just three years earlier.  The school only admitted white males, although a school for girls was also established in 1824.  By 1844, English High School had moved to downtown Boston (next to Boston Latin School), and the building in Beacon Hill was converted to a grammar school.  The new Phillips Grammar School was named after Boston's first mayor, John Phillips, and remained a white-only school because all black childr

Boston: George Middleton House

If you take up arms to fight for the freedom of a nation, what sort of personal freedom do you expect in return?  This week we take a look at the home of a man who answered that very question.  Like several homes along the Black Heritage Trail, the building at 5 Pinckney St. in Beacon Hill is a private residence today and is therefore not available for touring, but the site remains an important one for the community. George Middleton was approximately 40 years old when the first shots of the American Revolution were fired.  Born at some point in 1735, the exact month and day are unknown.  He chose to fight alongside his countrymen as a Patriot against the British, and was in command of a unit that was known as the Bucks of America.  This group was one of very few all-black companies in Massachusetts during the American Revolution, and although war records are incomplete and do not detail what action they saw, it is believed that Middleton (the only member of the Bucks to be remembered

Boston: 54th Regiment Memorial

At the edge of Boston Common, directly across Beacon Street from the Massachusetts State House, stands a bronze memorial set in marble.  The image depicts a single mounted officer alongside his marching troops - the men who, at this very location, marched into history on May 28, 1863.  It is Colonel Robert Gould Shaw leading his men to war, and those troops are the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.  The Civil War began in the spring of 1861, and within a week of the first shots being fired at Fort Sumter, SC, a young man from a wealthy Boston family had enlisted to serve in the Union army.  Within 18 months, young Robert Gould Shaw had fought in several battles (including Antietam), been wounded twice, and had been promoted from private to second lieutenant to captain.  Any cause for celebration that his upward mobility provided, however, would likely have been tempered by the relative lack of success for the Northern troops.  A war that both sides originally believed wou

Boston: Black Heritage Trail

Did you know that Boston has additional trails to travel?  Does it surprise you that they have one dedicated to the city's African American population?  A city that prides itself on being the Cradle of Liberty nevertheless has a complicated history for minorities, and the Black Heritage Trail that branches off from the Freedom Trail between Boston Common and the Massachusetts State House serves to inform visitors about that past. Boston's history with the black community goes back almost as far as that of its European inhabitants.  The first recorded landowner of African descent within modern Boston's city limits was Bostian Ken.  His home (and at least four acres of land) were purchased in 1656 as part of Dorchester, a town just south of the city that was annexed by Boston in 1870.  A former slave himself, Ken actually mortgaged his property to purchase the freedom for another slave for the sum of 32 pounds - a move that also earned him the designation as the first recorde

Boston: Freedom Trail Recap & Skinny House

And so we've come to the end of the Freedom Trail.  This set of 16 sites has helped define one of the most significant cities to our nation's history.  But we are not finished with the town itself, because as time has passed Boston has continued to reinvent itself into the city of today. As we move into the next several weeks, we're going to look at many of these additional sites that make Boston what it is today, as well as dig more deeply into the physical changes of the city itself.  Just for fun this week, I thought it might be enjoyable to spend a minute looking at a small-but-interesting location that has become iconic for citizens.  The Skinny House, located in Boston's North End across the street from Copp's Burying Ground, is a famous spite house - one built not for function, but for anger or revenge.   Measuring roughly 10 feet wide and 30 feet long, this four-story home constructed in 1884 sits on a mere 0.03 acres.  The common rumor is that a man left la